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Monday, Jul 19, 2010
Daniel Ellsberg was the first insider to take his concerns outside. The results changed the course of the conversation, and a country.

Sometimes, one man can make a different. Sometimes, if rarely, you can fight city hall - or in this case, the entire Federal Government. For Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon policy analyst and member of the influential Rand Corporation think tank, the war in Vietnam was a necessity…at least, at first. As he poured over briefing papers and military projections, he saw the conflict as a clash between self-determination, the domino theory, and a long standing unrest in the area. From his time in the Marines to his work with Lyndon Johnson’s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, he believed in the strength of the US position. But after a fact finding tour of the troubled nation and a thorough reading of the 7000 page report commissioned on the war, Ellsberg had a change of heart. Radicalized, he knew he had to do something. That “something” would soon change the course of modern American history.


Thus began the cynicism and suspect nature of the political process that is rampant in today’s hyper-partisan environment. Ellsberg’s eventual leaking of the so-called “Pentagon Papers” so pissed off the Nixon White House that he became the target of the administration’s infamous “dirty tricks”. Eventually, a break-in at Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office would be tied to Watergate, the President’s closest advisors, and the Commander in Chief himself. For anyone who grew up in the turbulent and troubled years between 1967 and 1975, Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers, and the eventual resignation of Richard Nixon would come to define the generation. While his noble intentions helped to shine a much needed light on the misdeeds of a nation, Ellsberg more or less lived up to his nickname - The Most Dangerous Man in America. As we see in the amazing documentary by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, the legacy he left behind is more troubling than the actions he took in defense of his beliefs.


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Tuesday, Jul 13, 2010
As part of the post-modern movement, they were the proto-rebels, the visionaries who mined the past in order to figure out the future.

We call them filters - filmmakers who take their entire life experience, both entertainment and otherwise, and channel it in a way that is both creatively novel and artistically new. For those unfamiliar with the numerous references and homages being tossed at the screen, these individuals seem unique and inventive. For anyone in touch with their particular muse, however, the reinvented callbacks and insular asides are nothing short of genius (or a joke). Quentin Tarantino is such a motion picture sieve. So are Brian DePalma and John Waters. Perhaps the most outrageous and talked about examples of the cinematic sifter were brothers George and Michael Kuchar. Combining their love of old world Hollywood with the growing underground scene, they forged a oeuvre so original that, even today, their “anything goes” approach rivals anything attempted by their peers.


As infamous in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s as Kenneth Anger and Andy Warhol, the twins are today regarded as the godfathers of the trash punk aesthetic, a campy combination of genre jumping designs and outsider imagination that cherry-picks apart various filmic archetypes to deliver a masterful reinvention of already established elements. In layman terms, their films are the very definition of a fever dream - pitched performances, megalomaniacal melodrama, and brilliant procedural shortcuts necessitated by budget, narrative, and scope. They are perhaps best known for their insane sci-fi riff Sins of the Fleshapoids, a witty emasculation of every Flash Gordon serial and big screen soap opera ever attempted. But with hundreds of movies in their individual and collaborative canon, the men remain perennial name checks for a myriad of savants synced up to their iconic idiosyncrasies.


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Friday, Jul 9, 2010
For some, Look Around You will seem like transmissions from the Planet Nutjob. For others, it will be all too familiar... and funny.

Back in the earliest days of television, the notion got around that, somehow, the boob tube could be used as a learning tool. Always ready to embrace what’s vaguely vogue, colleges and universities lined up to use their government approved UHF channels to explore languages and science, literature and music. Lessons were meticulously planned and classes were even taught over the airwaves, a way of providing correspondence coursework without having to get the postal service (or your personal dignity) involved. Eventually, the powers that be felt inclined to mandate an educational angle to all adolescent and under programming, a federal decision to wean the wee ones off the glass teat by trading product placement entertainment for π and E=MC2. The result was some of the worst TV ever: boring protracted epistles less concerned about engaging a viewer than they were explaining the molecular structure of cobalt.


For many, the daily doses of triganomic calculations and moles to grams Venn verbalizing left an indelible mark, series like 3-2-1 Contact and Big Blue Marble vying for (and undoing) the minor’s miniscule attention span. On the other end were corrupt curriculum experiences like French Today and The Universe and You, 30 to 60 minutes of mind-numbing dullness delivered with all the energy of a suicide note. One would imagine that such a soul sucking example of wasted opportunities and cloying pretension would be ripe for lampoon, but outside the occasional skit on SCTV, educational programming rarely got the razz - that is, until 2002. That’s when British comedians Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz took on the archetypal UK example of the at-home learning curve and came up with Look Around You. Last seen on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, the first season of this brilliant series is now out on DVD and well worth seeking out.


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Friday, Jul 2, 2010
It may not address every need of a commercially conscious viewer, but those with enough patience will be rewarded with something rich - and revelatory.

In most mysteries, the question of “how” is just as important as the “who.” We’ve all heard the jokes about the game Clue, where Colonel Mustard did “X” with “Y” in the Conservatory (or wherever), and most whodunit denouements only pay lip service to the killer. Instead, they spend an elaborate amount of time painting a portrait of the various events and interventions that lead to the crime in the first place. The “who” is just the icing on a criminal cake loaded with conjecture, coincidence, innuendo, and inconsistencies. Toss in a little dumb luck and the occasional element of entrapment, and the “how” instantly becomes the case. Everything within it ends up leading to identification, never the other way around.


In his book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the late author (and controversial journalist) Stieg Larsson explored the mechanics of “how” focusing on a disgraced investigative reporter, an angry young computer hacker, a sordid Swedish family legacy, and a 40 year old missing persons case. Offsetting each facet to focus on smaller points, as well as linking everything together in ways that seem surreal at first, the bestselling novel became the foundation for The Millennium Trilogy (named after the magazine that ‘hero’ Mikael Blomkvist publishes and writes for). Published posthumously, it showed Larsson as a regular rival to such well known mystery mavens as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and more recently, Thomas Harris.


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Friday, Jun 25, 2010
By turning The Crazies into a one horse town chase movie, by manipulating the material so that everything is minor and introspective in range, Eisner does the concept a disservice - and nothing ticks off a horror fan more than a wasted opportunity

There’s a big problem with trying to update The Crazies, George Romero’s anti-government screed from the early ‘70s, and it is not the legacy of the original man behind the lens. The king of the zombie genre, a name horror nerds adore more than a dream date with Vampira, may have created some classics in his day, but this ‘living dead’ retread, complete with similar scary beats, is not one of them. Nor is the core concept all that unwieldy. A town gone homicidally bonkers because of a failed military experiment should be easy fright flick pickings. We’ll even give in to the uninspired choice of ex-Disney demagogue Michael’s son Breck Eisner as our new production guide. While not horribly offensive, his limited oeuvre (Recon, Sahara) suggests someone still untried in the terror arena.


No, the biggest issue facing this otherwise effective little thriller is that someone has “been there/done that” before, and actually did it a whole lot better. That individual would be Danny Boyle, and his masterful non-zombie zombie film, 28 Days Later, is The (New) Crazies without all the middling mucking about. It’s practically the same storyline, except in its defense, the 2002 post-apocalyptic creepshow avoids all the meandering set-up and goes straight for the dread. With the Romero redux, we have to suffer through all the set-up before getting to the “good stuff” - what limited amount of same there is. When Sheriff David Dutton (a decent Timothy Olyphant) is forced to kill the town drunk during a little league game, it sets off a chain of events that sees the entire population of Midwestern nowheresville Ogden Marsh becoming unglued. Soon, fathers are setting their families on fire and morticians are sewing up the eyes and mouths…of the living!


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